Never Lie to a Samurai Ake Zuhuanchi waded through the mob of skink monks like a farmer harvesting sheaves of wheat. The scar-veteran was bedecked in his ornate lamellar and wielding his dual war-scythes. Surrounding him, his saurmurai bodyguard, resplendent in their bronze and braided armor, cut a path for him through the rebellious skinks deeper into the Oraka Temple compound. It had been over a hundred cycles of the dread moon since the skinkhei monks of the Izo-ziko clans had overtaken and rebuilt Oraka Temple. In the ancient era the Oraka was the bastion of the Emperor’s armies, a great temple-fortress just outside the Capitol City. After the Great Catastrophe, the fortress had fallen into disrepair and was lost to the all-consuming jungles. The abandoned temple became a haven for the lost and forgotten; including those of the First who had degenerated to their bestial nature. When the revolts began, the Emperor’s shogun was unable to keep the armies together. The saurmurai commanders and the regional military powers had fragmented, and the Isles were plunged in even greater despair. Newly spawned saurus cohorts, lost to the world, reverted to their animal instincts and decimated the countryside and skink populations. Brigands ran rampant; the saurus daimyo governors were only able to maintain order by use of force in their isolated provinces. Skink fought skink; saurus fought saurus as the Old Ones were increasingly forgotten in the wake of the growing power of the warrior caste. During this time many disenfranchised skinks and saurus took up arms for themselves. They rebelled against the saurus generals and the skink priests of the established Temples. Ultimately they embraced the Old Ones and unified the discordant rebellions as the fanatical Izo-ziko. It was a sect of this grassroots rebellion, the Sauk Sect of the Izo-ziko, who established their power base in the ruins of ancient Oraka Temple. Statues of the Old Ones were cast and repainted, bulwarks were built, towers were fortified. By the present day, the Oraka Temple had become a new and beautiful haven for their clan; and one of the most formidable fortress-compounds on the entire Dragon Isles. However Ake Zuhuanchi cared little for the artistry and magnificence of the rebuilt temple. As usual in missions such as these, his saurmurai warriors worked with great efficiency. They fought in small, elite cohorts through the temple blocks, slaughtering all opposition, and setting fire to structures as they moved to quell further resistance. Priceless artifacts were stolen and looted by the askinkagu footmen who followed behind; skink auxiliaries bearing spears and carrying their bounty on their backs as they skirted through the temple corridors. The rebel skink monks seemed to be in full retreat towards the center of the compound, and it was Zuhuanchi’s pleasure to exterminate them. In reaching the central keep of the compound with his cohort, Zuhuanchi could see that his victory was at hand. Arquebus-equipped askinkagu, each wearing the Ake crest on their sashimono banners, had rounded up the surviving rebels in the main temple plaza and were completing their executions. A treasure trove of food, goods, and loot was stacked high in the courtyard garden, now being loaded on carts for removal before the fire consumed the entire compound. The spiritual leader of the Izo-ziko sect, the Abbot, was held by two saurmurai at the barred the doors to the inner sanctuary. “Sauk Magoshi!” mocked Zuhuanchi as he climbed the glyph-inscribed stairway to gloat over his prisoner “…or rather Abbot as you are now called. My master sends his greetings.” The skink prisoner looked up in defiance. The Abbot was covered in his own blood; his eyes were black and swollen, and one of his legs was brutally twisted. “Chaos take your false lord. He has no right to invade this holy place.” “On the contrary skinkhei, he has every right to hunt down traitors and those who harbor traitors.” Turning to the skink’s holders, he demanded: “Where is Zutzunki?” “Is that the excuse you use nowadays to bring down another temple that opposes you?” Spitting on the floor in front of him he added, “He left here long ago. You will not find him here. Take your men and leave!” “He refuses to tell us my lord Ake,” A chameleon skink, covered head to toe in dark scales and black robes, came out from behind the saurmurai holding the prisoner. “…but it is clear he is in the compound. We found the Ake mon inscribed on the weapons and banner left outside the doors of the inner sanctuary. The traitor must be inside. We kept the doors barred and waited for your arrival.” “Thank you Mizaru,” responded Zuhuanchi, who then turned back to the skink prisoner at his feet, the savage razor-toothed grin never leaving his face. “My ninja shinobi informs me that you are indeed harboring a traitor in your midst. You know what the penalty for a lowly skink is to lie to a saurus of a Noble Spawning?” Tear stricken but defiant, the skinkhei refused to beg for his life. “The day will come when your demon-master will turn on you, Ake Zuhuanchi! He will cast you out when he has no more need of a slavering dog to do his dirty work for him.” Whipping around one of his scythes, the scar-veteran brought the butt of his weapon directly on the abbot’s head. With a resounding CRACK the skink slumped to the ground and didn’t get up. Stepping over the lifeless body, he motioned for his saurmurai to move forward. “Batter down the doors.” ************ Ake Zuhuanchi entered the sanctuary alone. Inside the dark and incense-wreathed corridors he found a single lone saurus deep in meditation, an ocean of calm amongst the tempest still raging across the temple complex outside. The saurus was dressed plainly, in the same orange garments as the other skinkhei monks. He sat before a golden, incredibly fat Slann statue on the far corner of the room, with flowers, trinkets, and flickering candles at its base. The saurus was putting more incense into the burner at his feet as Zuhuanchi stormed into the room. “Ake Zutzunki, it has been too long spawnbrother!” the scythe-wielding Zuhuanchi bellowed mockingly to the saurus on the floor. Not looking up from his meditation mat, Zutzunki was slow to answer. “Your master sent you?” Zuhuanchi snorted in response. “Surely you mean our master.” Still slow to respond, the monk-robed saurus slowly arose and placed the smoking burner at the feet of the statue. “I have forsaken him and that life many moon cycles ago. I am no longer the vassal of Oka Noburaka. Do not claim you have forgotten why.” “A great warrior never loses his thirst for battle. It is ordained by the Great Plan.” “Do not claim to know the Plan. I serve only the Emperor and Old Ones now. “ “And are slaves to them!” cried Zuhuanchi, raising one of his scythes in angry derision and gesturing to the Fat Slann. “The Old Ones are departed. The Emperor Tenno-Jimmu slumbers, the rest of the tzlan are dead and gone. The priests lie to us and cast us aside. The shogun and his Temple Guard are weak and refuse to act as the Isles disintegrate in war.” When the saurus monk refused to respond, Zuhuanchi continued, louder than before. “We the saurus shall lead, not the priests. Our cause is just. We fight and conquer for the betterment of our warrior race. We were once slaves to the Old Ways, our weakness made us fracture. Now the strong rule and protect; the saurus daimyo marshal their power in the provinces and fight to reunite the disparate spawnings under a single banner. Then we will be strong. Noburaka will make us strong.” The monk still said nothing as Zuhuanchi continued his tirade, refusing even to look at the armed saurmurai. The sounds of armed commotion outside still rang through the rafters of the sanctuary. “Noburaka plans to unite the Noble Clan Spawnings on the Isles. He wishes you to be at his side when his plan succeeds. He already has half the provinces under his control, but he needs your help to continue the conquest and to rule at his side. He is willing to forgive you, spawnbrother.” “You speak of slavery,” the monk finally answered, “…but the freedom and power you offer is false. You will trade what you perceive as the unjust the rule of the holy Tzlan Emperor for a new set of masters, small and lost to the truth of the Plan. I refuse.” Zutzunki rose to his feet, turning to face the saurmurai. “I expect you intend to bring me now to your master. I shall not come willingly.” The monk drew his snake-hilted weapon from beneath his tunic as he drew up his fighting stance. The saurmurai grinned broadly as the saurus monk drew his weapon. “Now you mistake my intention spawnbrother.” From his own robes, Ake Zuhuanchi drew a small matchlock-pistol concealed behind the fabric. “It is Noburaka who wanted you brought back into our fold to help him rule. That is not my intention. If I were to succeed in my mission and you were indeed reinstated at Noburaka’s side, you would eventually take my place among his inner circle, and it would be I that would be discarded. Word has already been sent to the Home Province of your final refusal to repent your treachery and your execution.” Smoke and fire engulfed the sanctuary as the saurus monk dropped to the floor, stunned as the life drained from his scales.